Travel Guide

Five Kyoto specialists’ secret recommended locations for autumn colored leaves

Five Kyoto specialists who have long lived in Kyoto tell their own way of appreciating the autumn beauty.

  1. Katsuhiko Mizuno (Photographer)

    The best time for taking photos of autumn leaves is also the time most crowded with tourists.  During that period, Mizuno rides on a bicycle and avoids the traffic jams.

    I have been a photographer focusing on the beauty of Kyoto for 40 years.  If you would like to take good photo of Kyoto, I would recommend going out in the early morning no matter which season because the morning light is the best for photo shooting.  Once the sun rises higher during the daytime, shadows and contrast become strong so that it is hard to capture the delicate color of autumn leaves.  Another tip I can tell is, if you wish to take impressive photos, try not to capture the entire scene but only a close up of one part of the object.  What I often do is to take photos of a tall tree from the root looking up to the top, then, sunbeams streaming through the leaves create a dramatic result.  When taking a photo of a natural object along with artificial objects such as buildings, try to keep the ratio of natural and artificial at 8:2.

  2. Yukiyo Toriimoto (Professor of Kyoto Notre Dame University)

    In the Heian period (794-1185), court nobles enjoyed autumn colored leaves not by planting maple trees in their residence but by going out into the mountains to appreciate the wild beauty.  One historical record from the Heian period, “Okagami” notes that the most powerful court officer at that time, Michinaga Fujiwara (966-1028), enjoyed autumn colored leaves in Arashiyama.  He set boats on the Oi River and people enjoyed Chinese poetry, Japanese poetry and traditional music on each boat.  I like to appreciate colored leaves not by focusing on one tree but by watching a broad area as one view.  People in the Heian period understood the best locations to appreciate the colors and established villas near the mountains.  Later in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), we can see from some old paintings that people in those days started to enjoy parties under the colored leaves.

  3. Shigeru Matsutani (Honorary Curator of the Kyoto Prefectural Botanical Garden)

    Green leaves turn their colors into red and yellow as they age.  Deciduous trees such as maple change colors due to complicated chemical reaction occurring by-product of photosynthesis when temperatures drop in autumn.  Green pigments are dissolved and new red pigments are produced in the leaves.  This reaction starts when temperatures go below 8 degrees and the leaves become beautiful with new colors at below 5 degrees.  Besides the low temperature, sufficient sunshine during the day, a wide temperature gap between day and night and adequate rainfall are all quintessential for beautiful color change.  I remember that the color in 2012 was brilliant as all these conditions were perfect.  

  4. Yuji Tsutsumi (Teacher of the Kyoto Seiyu-no-kai Poetry Club)

    What is special about autumn leaves in Kyoto is that there is a long history in each place.  I think history enhances the beauty of the colors.  Don’t you think it is amazing that we can still enjoy the same autumn views in Kyoto today that a poet in the Heian period (794-1185) gazed at over 800 years ago?  I love enjoying Kyoto’s autumn beauty with Japanese poetry because I can feel I share the same feeling with the people of those days.  No matter how popular and famous the place is, you can find your own way of appreciating autumn leaves in Kyoto and understanding the poetry helps you enjoy them even more.

  5. Sarasa Yoshida (Buddhist temple journalist)

                  I love autumn in Kyoto because no other place in Japan can offer such wonderful Buddhist art and garden beauty together.  Buddhist statues have been objects of people’s worship for an incredibly long time.  Usually, the place where great Buddhist statues are enshrined is also the location where visitors can have fantastic garden experiences.  If you have a chance, please try to learn a little about the temple or garden you are going to visit, then you will discover more charms and stories below the surface.  I like to look for small and simple Buddhist statues standing in the garden.  The photo below is one of the Buddhist statues in Shoji-ji Temple.  This is called Binzuru-san, who is said to have been a disciple of Buddha.  If you have a physical problem somewhere, stroke the same part on the Binzuru-san’s body as this is believed to dispel pain.  Try to enjoy both autumn gardens and Buddhist art in beautiful autumn Kyoto.

Appeared in “Kyoto Autumn Travel” Fujin-Gaho,November issue,2010 Published on 13.11.15